3 Korean cars caught on fire Thursday, killing 1

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3 Korean cars caught on fire Thursday, killing 1

Five cars burst into flames on Korean roads Thursday, leading to one death - which is rare in such accidents - and a serious injury.

And while two of the cars involved were BMWs - which were previously reported - three were not.

The three other cars were a Hyundai Equus, a Hyundai Avante and a Renault Samsung SM5.

An Equus caught fire on a road in Sangju, North Gyeongsang, around 1:41 a.m. Thursday. A woman in the front passenger seat died, according to local authorities, and the driver of the car, a man, was severely injured and hospitalized.

Police and fire fighters have been investigating the vehicle. They have not determined the cause of the fire as of Friday afternoon.

Also on Thursday, an SM5 caught fire on a section of the Daegu Expressway in Gwangju and an Avante caught fire on a section of the Yeongdong Expressway near Dongsuwon of Gyeonggi. Both fires were put out in about 20 minutes, according to local authorities, and there were no casualties.

In the case of the Avante, a missing engine oil filler cap may have caused the fire.

A Hyundai Motor employee looked at a photo of the Avante after the fire and said that it appeared to be missing the engine oil filler cap, according to Yonhap News. “A mechanic may have forgotten to replace the top,” the employee told the news agency.

The Avante had traveled nearly 120 miles from Andong, North Gyeongsang, and was nearing the Dongsuwon area in Gyeonggi when it caught fire. The 68-year-old driver told authorities that she saw smoke coming from the hood of her car and parked the car on the side of the road.

The two BMW models that caught fire Thursday are the latest in a steady stream.

BMW Korea has been insisting that faulty exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) modules are to blame for the fires.

The EGR reduces gas emissions by recirculating a portion of the gases into the manifold pipe and is only used on BMW’s diesel engines.

The two BMWs that caught fire Thursday, which brought the total number of BMWs catching fire this year to 36, were both diesels.

But earlier this year, fires broke out on five other gasoline models, including the 528i, 428i, 740i, 745i and a Mini Cooper.

The Equus and Avante that caught fire Thursday were gasoline models and did not have EGR modules, a Hyundai Motor spokesperson told the Korea JoongAng Daily.

The same went for the SM5, a Renault Samsung Motors employee told the paper.

Some analysts suggest the recent heat wave as a possible cause of the fires. “The temperature of an asphalt road rises to some 40 to 50 degrees Celsius [104 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit] in a heat wave, so if the engine is overheated, the car can catch on fire,” Kim Pil-soo, a professor of automotive engineering at Daelim University College in Anyang, Gyeonggi, told the JoongAng Ilbo. “If you are driving for a prolonged period of time, it might be safe to take a rest every hour or so.”

Kim said that warning signs before a fire breaks out in a vehicle may include a burning smell, a warning light on the dashboard or an engine that refuses to turn off.

“But these signs usually mean the fire has already started,” he said. “Which means you don’t have much time to take action to put out the fire.”

“Call 911 and try to put out the fire if it is in the initial stages if you have a fire extinguisher with you in the car,” a firefighter told the JoongAng Ilbo. “But if the fire is not in its initial stages, get out of the car and move away from it because it can explode.”

As of Friday, more than 2,000 people signed a petition to the Blue House asking for a clearer explanation and investigation into why cars are catching fire.

“BMW is recalling cars and preparing compensation measures, but what about other companies and their cars catching fire?” read a petition to the Blue House that was started on Thursday. “The government must inspect all cars including those from Hyundai and other companies to find out what’s wrong with them and to come up with systematic and specific compensation measures.”

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport recently launched a separate probe on the BMW fires after concluding it couldn’t rely on BMW Korea.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, PARK HAE-LEE [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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